The STEM Crisis
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are important fields which not only drive innovation, yet also play an important role in America’s ability to remain a worldwide marketing leader.
Yet, presently, the United States is struggling to fill STEM positions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report STEM professions are expected to increase by 9 million between 2012 – 2022, averaging out to a little less than 1 million STEM openings per year.
In addition to filling openings, there are other reports of STEM workers leaving their respective fields to pursue other careers. In fact, per a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau Report, 74% of STEM majors who graduated with a bachelor’s degree were not working in their designated field.
With the amount of data available, is there a lack of qualified STEM workers or simply a lack of interest?
There are many questions as to what exactly the Trump Administration will do with the current H-1B visa program.
Initially, the president-elect was against the H-1B visa program, vowing to eliminate it. Yet, following many conversations with business owners during his presidential campaign, Trump has changed his tune about the program, instead directing his administration to perform and in-depth review for any potential signs of abuse.
Trump’s primary focus is ensuring adequate recruitment efforts are made to hire American employees before foreign nationals.
Yet, if the U.S. Labor Market should need to fill nearly 1 million STEM professions per year, delay efforts to fill those positions with qualified applicants. With the large number of projected openings, it’s not likely they’ll all be filled by qualified American workers.
Currently, the United States doesn’t have a specific strategy or program in place to retain foreign nationals who take classes in the United States majoring in STEM fields.
Foreign students can attend U.S. universities under an F-1 status.
The visa permits foreign nationals to obtain a college degree at a U.S. university. However, it doesn’t allow F-1 visa holders to work while in college. The only type of work an F-1 visa holder can do is through a program which requires on-the-job experience for the student to graduate such as Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) programs. Yet, even upon completing these programs, foreign national graduates are required to leave the U.S. and return home.
There has been a push by many business owners and few lawmakers to create a path which helps foreign nationals who major in STEM fields to remain in the United States and granted a green card for working in the field.
Based on the number of people leaving STEM professions, one area of concern is the amount of education and preparation today’s college students are receiving.
It seems basic job-related skillsets are covered, yet other important skills are not. A few of those skills include professional writing, effective office communication, and how to collaborate with others. Skillsets which help create better work environments and play a part in furthering careers.
Some economists have even suggested requiring all college majors to put more of an emphasis on STEM careers.
Today, many nations are pouring billions of dollars into researching and developing ways to increase STEM workers and mentors, as well as retain F-1 visa holders who graduate with a degree in one of the many STEM fields.
The Obama Administration has taken measures to help retain foreign nationals who major in STEM occupations, calling for the U.S. government to create programs which train 10,000 new U.S. engineers each year and 100,000 STEM teachers by 2020.
Only time will tell if this will meet the expected STEM labor growth.
Come 2017, hopefully many lingering questions will get answered such as:
- What’s the validity of the number of STEM positions the U.S. Labor Force will be looking to fill from now until 2022?
- How will the Trump Administration impact the future of the H-1B visa program?
- Should all college majors place more emphasis on STEM courses to better fill positions in the future?
- And finally, will a path toward U.S. citizenship be created for F-1B visa students who major in STEM fields to retain them?
In addition to the Trump Administration, economy experts and education professionals will need to work together to identify the specific reasons for the lack of qualified STEM applicants and determine how to better support those pursuing a career in one of the four STEM fields.
Companies may also need to come up with ways – beyond better compensation – to better retain STEM employees.
Finally, the current H-1B visa cap is set at 85,000. Of course, not all those selected to receive an H-1B visa are entering a STEM profession. So another question lawmakers will need to answer is whether the cap should be increased or completely eliminated?